[Review] George Harrison: Wonderwall Music (1968)

George’s soundtrack to a psychedelic movie about a lonely biologist shouldn’t be put under a microscope, but it’s much better than I expected.

Kronomyth 1.0: Something in the way he movies.

I’ve listened to this album about 10 times and enjoyed it every time, but there are things to do, bills to pay and I don’t want to spend too much time listening to the soundtrack to a film that I frankly fast-forwarded through. George Harrison’s first solo record was released shortly after John and Yoko’s Two Virgins and featured a series of short instrumentals that alternate between traditional Indian music and studio bits that could well have come from the editing-room floor of The Beatles’ more experimental adventures (the ending to “Strawberry Fields Forever,” “Revolution 9”).

Opinion is divided as to whether Wonderwall Music constitutes a proper showcase for George’s broad musical interests (my opinion) or a misguided mishmash of music. I’d fall short of calling it an essential purchase or even one of his better works (I can think of at least five Harrison albums I like more), but I will admit that, while recently listening to Cluster & Eno, I was struck by the fact that the sum effect was much the same to me (cf. “Greasy Legs,” “Dream Scene”), yet critics seem to have no problem declaring the latter a work of unmitigated genius while the former tends to lie in the “unmitigated gall” camp. Some of Wonderwall’s toylike melodies also reminded me of Penguin Café Orchestra (cf. “Fantasy Sequins”), and while it’s unlikely that Brian Eno, Simon Jeffes or Jon Hassell had Wonderwall Music in heavy rotation on their record players, this record is a kind of precursor to the ambient world trip they were on.

I’m not calling George Harrison the godfather of ambient or world music, merely noting that Wonderwall Music makes a solid case for him as an early and intrepid musical explorer. Mind you, this music is not meant to replace the music of The Beatles; “Party Seacombe” is a fair match for “Flying” and “Ski-ing” rocks out thanks to Eric Clapton and an uncredited Ringo Starr, but that still leaves you with about forty minutes of music that really doesn’t sound anything like The Beatles (“Within You Without You” not withstanding).

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Original LP Version

A1. Microbes (3:39)
A2. Red Lady Too (1:53)
A3. Tabla And Pakavaj/In The Park (5:16)
A4. Drilling A Home/Guru Vandana (4:14)
A5. Greasy Legs/Ski-ing And Gat Kiwani/Dream Scene (10:08)
B1. Party Seacombe (4:34)
B2. Love Scene/Crying (5:34)
B3. Cowboy Museum (1:27)
B4. Fantasy Sequins/Glass Box (4:15)
B5. On The Bed (1:05)
B6. Wonderwall To Be Here (1:24)
B7. Singing Om (1:54)

All songs composed and arranged by George Harrison.

The Players

George Harrison (piano, mellotron, acoustic & electric guitars, tape loops) with Edward Antony Ashton (jangle piano, organ), John Barham (piano, flugel horn), Indril Bhattacharya (sitar), Eddie Clayton (Eric Clapton) (guitar on A5), Rij Ram Desad (harmonium, tabla-tarang), Roy Dyke (drums), Shankar Ghosh (sitar), Sharad & Hanuman Jadev (shanhais), S.R. Kenkare (flute), Ashish (Aashish) Khan (sarod), Colin Manley (guitar, steel guitar), Mahapurush Misra (tabla, pakavaj), Tommy Reilly (harmonica), Philip Rogers (bass), Chandra Shakher (sur-bahar), Shambu-Das (sitar), Shiv Kumar Sharmar (santoor), Vinaik Vora (thar-shanhai). Produced by George Harrison.

The Pictures

Photo by Astrid Kemp. Sleeve designs by Bob Gill/JohnKelly/Alan Aldridge from a photograph by Camera Press.

The Plastic

Released on elpee and 8-track on December 2, 1968 in the UK (Apple, SAPCOR 1) and the US (Apple, ST/8XT-3350) with insert; reached #49 on the US charts. 8-track features different track order.

  1. Re-issued on elpee and cassette in France (Apple, 2C 066-90.490) and Germany (Apple, 1C 062/1C 244-90 490).
  2. Re-issued on elpee in Germany (Apple/Horzu, SHZE-250).
  3. Re-issued on elpee in Japan (Apple, EAP-9031X).
  4. Re-released on remastered compact disc on June 24, 1992 in the US (Capitol, 98706), Brazil (EMI, 98706) and Japan (EMI, TOCP-7096).
  5. Re-released on remastered 180g vinyl elpee in 2014 in Germany (Apple, 0602557090307).
  6. Re-released on super high material compact disc on October 15, 2014 in Japan (Universal, UICY-76635).
  7. Re-issued on SHMCD on February 24, 2017 in Japan (Universal, UICY-78135).

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